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Doula UK Conference, Manchester

Last Weekend we travelled up to Manchester to the Doula UK Annual Conference. We had a long, delayed, diverted journey which forced us off the expected route and out of our comfort zone. What do three doulas do in such circumstances? Open the sun roof and embrace the gentler pace! We marvelled at the beautiful weather and countryside and enjoyed the chance for a good catch up! As three mothers travelling without children, this was just an opportunity to enjoy the journey and not stress!

Thanks to some focussed navigation as we entered Manchester we found ourselves at our hotel- we had ARRIVED! Squeals of excitement and leaping onto hotel beds meant the weekend had really begun!

There is nothing like navigating your way to and around an unfamiliar city to remind you of the journey women take in their first time approaching birth. New surroundings, signs you don't recognise, different faces and voices, its exciting- but you feel vulnerable. (we looked like proper tourists swivelling our paper map on street corners looking for our restaurant!)

Our cockatils and tapas slipped down a treat and we found an early night was just what we needed to prepare for the following day.

As we entered the room on conference day to the sight of hundreds of Doulas there was a wonderful mixture of nerves and excitement- all these women, working as we do to support families in their birthing. All making themselves available to help, to listen and support.

The energy in the room was pretty electric, especially as Ina May Gaskin walked on stage to address the room full of expectant faces. She spoke of "What makes birth work well?" and shared with us her journey from her first pregnancy, to her life as a midwife suporting women in her community. This collection of experiences and observeations was a great reminder that the art of storytelling has such value when it comes to sharing birthing wisdom. The magic that we can benefit from when we stop and listen to eachother- a skill being lost between women as our cultures evolve, external influences have such loud voices and our connnections to other women current and past stretch or disappear. The story telling of Ina May's early learnings of birth are rich in this wisdom, and we will surely lose this valuable thread of knowledge if we don't encourage women to listen to their own bodies, and to each other. There is scope for great change in birth and the power is in the hands of women to make this happen!

Meeting Ina May - an inspiration

Whilst the highlight for most doulas present was to meet and listen to Ina May, the conference boasted a variety of speakers, including Kerstin Unvas Moberg who opened up our understanding of Oxytocin and presented some exciting pieces of information to further support many of our practices, as well as useful research to add to our understanding of how certain interventions affect the body's prodcution of, and benefits from oxytocin in the birthing and breastfeeding process.

We enjoyed hearing from Istvan Bujdoso about digital marketing- an area of discussion not so much birth inspired but something we recognise to be an important way to ensure we can connect to women through our website. We look forward to benefitting from a free consultation to get the most out of our new website!

After a delicious lunch, we made our way to afternoon workshops where we broke out into smaller groups for discussion around a topic. Becs and Tortie attended "the role of the doula supporting women with Tokophobia (significant fear of birth)," whilst Ly joined the group "The effect of friendly behaviour" with Kirstin Unvas Moberg. The space to work around a suject and leanr from others in the room is always valuable.

Tortie and Becs learnt about a new research study soon to be launched in Berkshire looking at the feasibility of the NHS funding doulas to support women who suffer extreme fear of birth. We talked around the subject looking at ways doulas can work within this study, the challenges, the support needed and ways forward from the study.

With refuelled tea cups and a stretch, we returned to the main confernece room to hear Elsie Gayle speak about her practise as an independent Mimosa Midwife and in particular her interest in the intersection of rascism and gender- and how this is felt by women of coulour in the birthing world. A quote she referred to rings true for any woman birthing, and is something we know to be so important in a woman feeling empowered and respected in her birthing:

"There is never an excuse to not speak up for what you think is right" - Michael Sheen

Next on stage was Hollie McNish- who brought many in the room to tears through her honest and bold readings. Poet Kate Tempest describes her work to be "Welcoming, Galvanising and Beautiful" and there was no doubt that her words met some vulnerability in each woman in the room. This collection of prose and poetry was written in a private diary during preganncy and early motherhood, and is now published as a book "Nobody told me." Funny, raw, political, questioning- Hollie's work shouts out and cannot be ignored! It was a great honour to meet Hollie and her young daughter, her conference assistant, who was busily building a book pyramid and making signs for her book sales. I'll be sharing my book with women i know and support.

A panel discussion opened up many questions from delegates and we heard encouraging words from a practising Obstetrician who practically had the whole crowd eating from his hand as he spoke so honestly and wisely about birth- a perspective not often represented in such a positive and woman centred way. The general feeling was certainly that we all wished his words were echoed in the voices of other professionals we come into contact with. There was a discussion around the role of doulas, and the challenges in working privately within an NHS system- the difficulties in working relationships and how to move forwards in nurturing positive working relationships within our communities.

A simple but important message we could all take away was that if we can "all be nice to each other" then our strength and effectiveness in supporting positive births will be made so much easier, and the experience will be so much better for all in the team!

Such a wealth of information and connection on this single day had us feeling galvanised for our work as we move forwards as a collective. Feeling re-energised as professionals working together to do our part in helping to make birth positive for women we support, and making positive connections with all those we work with.

Thank you Doula UK and all those to volunteered their time, travelled, spoke and made the event such a success!

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